Bush’s Education Reform Plan on Hold
Procedural delays and uneasiness about plan delay bills’ consideration
President Bush’s education reform plan — once on Congress’ fast track — is losing steam on Capitol Hill this summer.
Some political analysts had expected speedy approval of a final bill once the House of Representatives and the Senate approved their reform blueprints in late spring. But procedural delays, summer vacations and uneasiness about some provisions of the plan are delaying consideration — likely until fall.
“We are in a lull now,” says Rep. Major Owens, D-N.Y., a Congressional Black Caucus member.
Congress took a weeklong break for the July 4 holiday, and action in the Senate has been slowed by the turnover of that chamber from Republican to Democratic leadership. Both parties, for example, just finalized membership on the Senate’s education panel in mid-July.
The next step is for both chambers to designate negotiators for a committee that will resolve differences between the House and Senate bills. The Senate just named its negotiators and the House soon will follow, but lawmakers’ monthlong August recess is fast approaching.
There also are lingering concerns about provisions of both the House and Senate bills, which, if enacted, would affect everything from student testing to the relationship between schools and higher education institutions. For many CBC members, a key issue is whether the White House will support more funding for key programs. The House and Senate bills authorize billions in new spending, but there is no guarantee of new funds unless both parties agree to such increases.
“We have authorized amounts of money that are far greater than have been reserved in the (White House) budget,” Owens says.
One area is in Title I, where the education reform bills call for expanding the program from $8 billion to $17 billion. Another new initiative calls for greater cooperation between schools and colleges to promote K-12 reform.
Depending on estimates, the White House budget assumes about a 4 percent increase for education programs. Yet most say considerably more is needed to meet the bills’ intent.
“It is hypocritical to have all the powers that be … authorize services without the funding to back it up,” according to Owens.
As a result, some Democrats are in no hurry to complete action on the bills — leaving it for the fall when Congress also must approve a final education budget for the next fiscal year. By leaving the education bills until fall, lawmakers can better gauge the Bush administration’s willingness to support spending increases, advocates claim.
The House bill, referred to as the Leave No Child Behind Act, mandates testing in grades 3 to 8 and authorizes more funds for failing schools. At schools that do not make progress after three years, students could transfer to other public schools and receive federal funds for private tutoring.
For higher education, the bill includes a grant program in which states would send funds to colleges and universities that help local schools improve math and science instruction.
“This bill represents a long overdue change in federal education policy,” says Rep. John Boehner, R-Ohio, chairman of the House Education and the Workforce Committee.
The Senate bill, the BEST Act, also has testing provisions and programs to shore up underperforming schools. In addition, seven states could get waivers from most rules and regulations and use federal funds as a large education block grant.
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